About Hu Jia and the Sakharov Prize

I have been observing with great amusement how some bloggers have managed to hijack the news about Hu Jia’s Sakharov Prize award to advance their agenda. Their motives, in both cases, are far from honourable. I am referring to how the two bloggers from TPD and Inside-out China respond to a comment at the Guardian, where Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times has eloquently paid tribute to Hu Jia for his achievement.

It is interesting how jealousy and self-delusion can affect people’s judgement. Here we have a couple of bloggers questioning the decision of the EU for choosing Hu Jia as the Prize recipient. I am wondering whether they would have made the same “insightful” and “critical” comments, should the Guardian have solicited their opinion in the first instance.

Let us return to the question about whether Hu Jia deserves to be awarded the Prize. My answer is an unequivocal YES.

To those who ask the question about what Hu Jia has actually done apart from being jailed, let me remind you of an inconvenient truth: prior to his imprisonment in April 2008, for more than two years, Hu Jia had been continuously harassed by Chinese authorities and had been placed under house arrest. The persecution he endured had practically stopped him from physically participating in organisations that advocated environmental protection and the rights of AIDS sufferers. But Hu Jia was not intimidated; he remained active via email and blogging. The fact that ordinary people in China are unfamiliar with Hu Jia is a very powerful testimony to how media censorship has been used to great effect to suppress freedom of speech in China.

One of the most enduring legacies of Hu Jia, among many others, was his courage to speak the truth, particularly the truth about human rights violation in China. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is a special award for those who have the courage to speak the truth. In awarding Hu Jia the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament honours, in particular, his outstanding achievements in his fight to protect freedom of thought and expression against intolerance, fanaticism and hatred.

To be fair, the bloggers “TPD” and “Inside-out China”, disingenuous as they are, are not the only people who have ever questioned the value of truth and integrity. When Jesus was arrested and put on trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” To this Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; for if my kingdom is of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this cause I was born and have come, that everyone who is of the truth should hear my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” Jesus answered, “Truth is from heaven.” Pilate said, “Is there no truth upon earth?” Jesus said to Pilate, “You see how those who speak the truth are judged by those who have authority on earth. So what is justice?”

This prize will hopefully send a clear message to the Chinese government that many people in the civilised world support those who are fighting for civil rights and freedom of thought. Such voices cannot be silenced, in the long run – no more than the voice of Christ could be silenced after 2,000 years, when he spoke his last words as a “criminal” who failed to make any political changes in his lifetime – but his love of Truthfulness has continued to change the world for the past 2,000 years.

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15 Responses to About Hu Jia and the Sakharov Prize

  1. justrecently says:

    Any substantial efforts on behalf on human rights and fundamental freedoms deserve the Sakharov prize, and it is nothing unusual that a panel makes a decision and awards a prize to one person or organization – no matter how many more candidates might have deserved it. The question isn’t if Hu Jia is the kind of guy you would like to work with as a colleague, if the direction of his nose is ideal or if he or she has a smoking habit.
    I think this is something that many of Hu Jia’s critics simply don’t get. As I don’t want to get nasty, I’m not going to speculate about what motivates them. May they continue to speculate about what motivates Hu Jia, if it isn’t obvious enough to them – that’s their freedom of speech. I’d say that the Sakharov prize went to a pretty valid address this year.

  2. Ned Kelly says:

    JR said,

    “May they continue to speculate about what motivates Hu Jia, if it isn’t obvious enough to them – that’s their freedom of speech”.

    But what is legal isn’t necessarily moral. Freedom of speech is a legal freedom, and it includes the freedom to lie, but the legality of lying doesn’t make it moral.

    Here’s an analogy: In some countries it’s legal for men to hang out in public toilets and solicit anal sex from other men. But that doesn’t make it a clean or dignified practice.

  3. Ned Kelly says:

    Furthermore, I’m going to exercise my freedom of speech even more, and say that the China-blogosphere’s cynical and underhanded attacks on Hu Jia amount to a circular “virtual felching”.


    Hey, it’s all about freedom of speech, right? They DO believe in freedom of speech, right?

  4. Ned Kelly says:

    And not to digress too much from this serious topic, but I challenge anyone who thinks my metaphor of “circular virtual felching” is “offensive”, to listen to this hilarious two minute radio news story about a felching accident, and try, just try, not to laugh.

    Try not to laugh. I dare ya. Here:


  5. justrecently says:

    Neddy, I get the impression that a long time of conflict and hassle about freedom has left some pretty ugly traces on your hard drive.

  6. Ned Kelly says:

    My blog defends Hu Jia and martyrs for truth. Others cynically call for “fairness and balance” in assessing, inter alia, China’s practice of forced infanticide. Acknowledging ugliness is not at all the same thing as creating it.

  7. justrecently says:

    I think that some of the answers Richard (Peking Duck) gets on his blog – from Kevin and Marc for example – are putting things into perspective. Richard seems to feel challenged when other Chinese NGO workers, or officials with the UN, ask what Hu Jia “actually achieved”. I believe that envy is one of the driving forces behind much of that criticism. But what Richard writes about it on his blog isn’t a lie, is it?

  8. C.A. Yeung says:

    Justrecently wrote:

    “As I don’t want to get nasty, I’m not going to speculate about what motivates them.”

    I don’t consider it nasty to call a spade a spade. We don’t need to speculate at all when it comes to a certain blogger’s motivation. He says it all himself, unashamedly. And I have no reason to doubt whether he really meant what he said.

    Here I quote Richard’s comment at Xunjun’s blog:

    “That Guardian article says it all about why the coverage of Hu Jia has been so poor. Read the article carefully. There is almost no substance to it. Brought roses to Tiananmen Square, got arrested…. It’s good to be pure and dignified. But many people are pure and dignified, and have a far more impressive roster of achievements to the causes Hu was fighting for. The level of cynicism about this award among the international AIDS-prevention/treatment NGOs, that saw Hu as an annoying gadfly, cannot be exaggerated.”

    As you can see, Richard really feels short-changed on two accounts. This is the two points that Richard is trying to make: 1. Why would the Guardian choose someone so “unqualified” to make a comment about Hu Jia? Don’t they realise that I AM the PR expert who is LIVING in China? Do they know that I am PAID in RMB? 2. How can Hu Jia claim that he fights for AIDS sufferers? He is not even GAY. Don’t they know that AIDS is a gay disease?

  9. C.A. Yeung says:


    My comment just crossed yours.

    You asked, “But what Richard writes about it on his blog isn’t a lie, is it?”

    Not a lie, but only partially true. Sometimes half truth is worse than lies. The other half of the truth is that Hu Jia’s critical comments about the Beijing Olympics would have made Richard’s work as a PR consultant for the sponsor of the torch relay very difficult indeed. He once commented somewhere at TPD that he almost lost his job because of the torch relay debacle. It is therefore understandable why he is so hostile towards Hu Jia. Now, this is the part of the “truth” that Richard is not telling you.

  10. justrecently says:

    Hi Catherine,
    I agree that Richard’s comment on Xujun’s blog is ugly – I haven’t read the post there before. But even an underlying suggestion that he’s an EXPERT wouldn’t be a lie, because he probably believes that himself. Even this is just speculation from my quarters though, and not “exposing the truth about Richard”. I think such an approach would be both inaccurate and way too defensive. There is enough that speaks for Hu Jia, and against the point Richard is trying to make. He became defensive when some commenters on his site started challenging his position, and he doesn’t look good there – he’s started defending himself. But why do you want to paint a picture of Richard’s character? That’s apparently what he’s trying to do with Hu Jia’s standing. Aren’t the issues enough?

  11. justrecently says:

    Oops. These two comments crossed, too. I’ll take a break now and will be back later today.

  12. Ned Kelly says:

    “But why do you want to paint a picture of Richard’s character?”

    We’re not painting anything. Richard has been perfectly capable of painting and tarnishing his own character in his own words.

  13. C.A. Yeung says:


    That’s right, we are not attempting at character assassination. Not at all. I didn’t include a single piece of information about Richard that he has not already openly admitted in his blog. That’s very different to Richard’s attempt at vilifying Hu Jia. I did not go around interviewing Richard’s co-workers about how they thought of him as an annoying gadfly. Now that’s character assassination.

    Please also give me some credit for not dragging some historical issues between TPD and CDT into this discussion.

    But I do agree with you that enough is enough. I’m happy to let it go and move on to something more important, such as the proposed land reform. See my comment at your blog.

    P.S. JR – Your Comment #10 contains more than 2 hyperlinks. That’s why it’s been zapped into the moderation pool. But it’s fixed now and you should be able to view it.

  14. Perhaps I missed a good deal of the discussion, as I have been consumed with work of late, but my undertsanding is that the majority of the composers who collectively make up the English language China blogsphere, rather than dismissing Hu Jia as a worthwhile recipient of the Sakharov Prize, simply agreed that there were others who were arguably more worthy.

  15. justrecently says:

    As a blogger, I understand the need to write frequently. That’s what blogging is about, and I’m not writing a smart post every time either, so I wouldn’t criticize the Peking Duck for that. But discussing at hindsight if a choice such as for the Sakharov prize is adequate looks somewhat cheesy to me – advocating other candidates prior to the award decision would make more sense.
    There are cases where I don’t really understand the criticism that TPD and InsideoutChina are meting out. They seem to dislike the idea that an uncompromising dissident gets an award, while courageous investigative journalists such as from Southern Metropolis – who have taken a commendably courageous, but more low-profile approach – do not get a prize. But in my books, that’s no convincing point to make. I share Ms Eberlein’s assessment that the Southern Metropolis Daily journalists’ work is tactful and effective. But that doesn’t devalue the approach Hu Jia has taken. Besides, what sense would it make to award the Southern Metropolis the Sakharov prize? They would hardly feel encouraged by the Sakharov kind of an prize. They would probably feel rather threatened by it.

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